Annex foes zero in on Tupelo infrastructure plan

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Opponents of Tupelo’s annexation effort attacked the city’s plans Wendesday to extend water and sewer services to outlying areas.
Cook Coggin engineer Brett Brooks spent the entire day on the witness stand, taking questions from three attorneys during the hearing on Tupelo’s expansion plans.
During his testimony, he explained how and where Tupelo would implement $18.5 million in new water and sewer facilities. The plan, which Brooks helped craft, calls for a variety of options depending on the proposed annexed area.
Tupelo wants to annex six areas in all for a total of 16.15 square miles of land. Some 2,500 residents live inside these areas and many oppose the annexation.
Also opposing the move are Lee County and the cities of Plantersville and Satillo, each of which are fighting it in court. The trial began March 29 in Lee County Chancery Court and is expected to last six weeks.
In some places, the city would upgrade water lines for fire protection only. Other areas would get new sewer lines but no new water lines. Some would get both, and others would get none.
Decisions were based on existing services, who provides those services, and whether the area has enough development to justify new services.
Attorneys on both sides went through each of the six proposed annexation areas, seeking meticulous details about the size, length, capacity and pressure of various pipes and lines and systems.
Tupelo attorney John Hill posed questions to support the annexation plan; Lee County attorney Chad Mask and Saltillo attorney Henderson Jones launched queries to denounce the effort.
Among the points of contention was the city’s plan to improve infrastructure in areas already served by private utility providers.
Private providers aren’t obligated to release their customers to the city after annexation. Yet, in some cases, the city will install larger water pipes in those area to boost fire protection.
Mask suggested the investment was unwise since Tupelo would receive no economic benefit from gaining new utility customers. Brooks said the private providers could sell their systems to the city and, in at least one case, might donate a system.
The city would then gain revenue from those customers by providing residential water.
Mask then lambasted the city’s proposed infrastructure map, which showed no improvements for residents of County Road 105, one of whom testified Monday that she opposes annexation.
“If Cindy Scott Stewart … were here today, what sewer services would you tell her you will provide to County Road 105?” Mask demanded.
Brooks claimed the map was a preliminary effort based on basic information and that, should annexation pass, engineers would perform a thorough field study of the areas. Any residents left off the first map likely would be included on the second map.
The trial is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. today with Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons testifying.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.